Review - Paul Geremia
Caffe Lena, April 16
At Caffe Lena, this land may be your land and my land, but last Friday night there Paul Geremia owned the acoustic blues. Nobody plays the complex prewar fingerstyle guitar music of Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and their contemporaries with more authenticity and authority than the 66-year-old Rhode Island native—most other performers either don’t elect to re-create the challenging fingerboard arrangements, or simply don’t have the chops. Few folkies have been picking country blues for as long, either. Geremia, who in the 1960s learned from some of the original Delta bluesmen, says that he first appeared at Caffe Lena in 1965, making his tenure there almost as old as the historic coffeehouse itself.
in a gray shirt, jeans, red suspenders, and a gray fedora, Geremia, a
tenor who sings blues convincingly, opened the first of two long sets
with Blind Willie McTell’s “Don’t Forget It.” The swaggering boogie
basslines and snappy good-time rhythms rolling out of his guitar showed
Geremia was up to his usual impressive par.
Following the Willie McTell tune, he played Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Shucking Sugar.” Blind Lemon was one of the fanciest of the country-blues players, and Geremia is the only picker I’ve seen who has mastered the Texan’s guitar style. (He explained that he doesn’t play the old songs note-for-note, but close enough so that if the person who recorded the music walked in the room he would recognize his work.)
Turning to Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, a 1920s Memphis jug band, Geremia explained in one of his illuminating if rambling preambles that Cannon’s most famous song, “Walk Right In,” a No. 1 hit in 1963 for the folk group the Rooftop Singers, was actually about an opium den, such establishments apparently having been rife in Memphis during the Jazz Age. Who knew? He then performed a Cannon tune about an “opium-addicted gigolo,” “My Money Never Runs Out.” “I don’t care if I ever wake up,” began the chorus.
Other standouts were Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” (it was first time I could understand the lyrics), Willie McTell’s famous “Statesboro Blues,” and Leadbelly’s “I’m on My Last Go Round.”
The sole shortcoming of the evening was that too many of Geremia’s selections tended towards the same tempo (quick) and accompaniment style. But that’s like complaining that Eric Clapton played too much slow blues in a concert or that Jimi Hendrix leaned too heavily on feedback on his records.
Opening were guitarist Mark Tolstrup and drummer Dale Haskell. Haskell in particular is a superb vocalist with a strong Southern rock influence—blues fans will want to check out their next gig.
Home | Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Books | Harmonica Books | Music Lessons | CDs
Harmonica Main | Celtic Main | Blues Main | Fingerstyle Main | Woodstock 69 | Reviews
Free Celtic Guitar Arrangements | Free Celtic Harmonica Arrangements | Online Celtic Tunebook
Writings | MySpace Page | Discographies | To Order Books | Contact | Links | Translate